Everyone from the president on down is trying to get people to pay more attention to the road while driving, and less attention to phones, other passengers and the family pet.

Everyone, from law enforcement officers to Oprah Winfrey to President Barack Obama, is urging people to avoid distractions like cell phones and GPS devices while driving. Now, AAA is targeting auto passengers that have very little to do with the operation of a car: Fido and Fluffy.

According to AAA, 31 percent of respondents to a recent survey admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving, and 21 percent have allowed their dog to sit in their lap while driving.

The survey follows on the heels of Winfrey's "No Texting" campaign (to remind people to stop texting while driving). In addition, there was an official 2010 Distracted Driving Summit hosted on Sept. 21 in Washington, D.C., and there are ongoing efforts by law enforcement officials to encourage safe driving habits.

The U.S. Department of Transportation defines distracted driving as "any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing."

In 2008, nearly 5,900 people died and almost half a million people were injured because of automobile accidents involving a distracted driver, according to the National Automotive Sampling System General Estimates System.

Driving while distracted occurs with people of all ages, but it has the deadliest consequences for younger, inexperienced drivers. Statistics show that drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of fatal auto accidents because of distractions - and the number of young people who text while driving is increasing.

There are three main types of driving distractions:

Visual: taking your eyes off of the road Manual: taking your hands off of the wheels Cognitive: taking your mind off what you're doing

The government calls texting “the most alarming” because it involves all three types of distractions.

Distracting activities listed by the Department of Transportation include talking on a cell phone, using a personal digital assistant or a navigation system, watching a video, changing the radio station or CD, eating, drinking, talking to passengers and grooming. Other distracting activities are daydreaming, having strong emotions and searching or reaching for loose items while driving.

'You're going to get injured'

Sometimes, those loose items are pets traveling unrestrained in vehicles, according to AAA.

A lot of animals travel by car. According to a survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, nearly 90 percent of pet owners travel with their pets - and many of those pets roam free in the vehicle, often standing on hind legs while catching the breeze blowing through an open window.

Unrestrained pets can interfere with driving, jump from car windows or hinder rescue efforts at the scene of an accident. And when a collision occurs, an unrestrained dog or cat can become a dangerous projectile.

Sangamon, Ill., County Chief Deputy Jack Campbell said he uses this example when speaking to driver's education students: "If you're going 60 mph and you hit a brick wall, everything inside the car that's not strapped down continues to go 60 mph until something stops it. If anything hits you or your passenger at 60 mph, you're going to get injured."

Campbell says that it's a good idea to avoid having a pet in the car if you can. If you must take your pet in the car, "at the very least, use a pet carrier or pet restraint. At best, use a pet carrier that's buckled in."

Campbell also stresses the importance of education when it comes to distracted driving.

"Young people are especially at risk. I want to make this real for kids - to minimize opportunities where they can end up in an accident," Campbell said. "We live with driving distractions on a daily basis. The idea is to minimize them. Do one thing at a time. If you're talking to someone in the car, turn off the radio. If you don't need the Garmin in town, turn it off. If you have to talk on the phone, do it hands-free."

By the numbers

According to the National Automotive Sampling System General Estimates System:

In 2008, 37,261 people were killed in auto crashes, and 5,870 of those killed (16 percent) were in crashes where drivers were distracted. 21 percent of injuries from auto crashes in 2008 were due to distracted driving. From 2004 to 2008, crashes from distracted driving rose from 8 to 11 percent.

The law

Accordingto the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Illinois has a ban on all cell phone use –– handheld and hands-free –– for novice drivers (drivers under the age of nineteen). Texting while driving is illegal in Illinois. Illinois has a ban on the use of cell phones while driving in a school zone or in a highway construction zone.